I know for many people the word they might use to sum up this Arsenal season would be stronger, much stronger, than ‘frustrating’, but that’s what seems to fit for me this morning.
On Tuesday night Chelsea, our main rivals for 4th spot, dropped two points against Swansea. Just as they did last weekend against Norwich. Twice Arsenal have had a chance to make up some of the deficit, twice we’ve failed. We all know what happened against Man United and that’s ground I’m unwilling to cover again but last night the frustration of not clawing back some ground is compounded entirely by our failings in the very area of the pitch I would have liked to see the manager strengthen in January.
A clean sheet, only our sixth in the league, came about from a reasonably ok defence but one which got lucky a couple of times. Late on when Mark Divies was clean through with a gigantic German hanging out of him, and once in the first half when David Ngog skewed a shot wide from about 6 yards out. My first thought when he did that wasn’t ‘Phew’, it was ‘He could play for us’.
In the second half Robin van Persie hit the post and the bar and on those occasions the Dutchman was unlucky. For the former his near post flick from Sagna’s cross had the keeper beaten, while a Bergkampesque manoeuvre on the edge of the Bolton area saw his sumptuous right footed chip drop onto the top of the bar. Twice he’s done that this season, and twice he’s been denied by the woodwork.
It was the first half that cost us though. We had three great chances to score and missed them all. Firstly, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a fantastic ball behind the Bolton defence, Aaron Ramsey beat the offside trap and from just inside the box tried to finish first time on the stretch, which made it easy for Bogdan to save. He had time to take a touch and compose himself.
Later, The Ox was set up by van Persie in the Bolton area, but from around the penalty spot his shot went high and wide. His body shape was wrong but then we can’t be too critical of him because he was, in general, one of the positives on the night. The best chance fell to Theo Walcott, again it was Oxlade-Chamberlain whose cute pass dissected the Bolton defence, Theo was one on one with Bogdan and bottled it. The keeper saved but you cannot miss chances like that at this level.
As the half wore on Arsenal tired, Bolton ended the game with more pressure and could have had a penalty for Mertesacker’s fondling of Divies, but perhaps some justice was done after the Bolton player’s terrible dive in the first half which got an incredulous Vermaelen booked. An off-target Ramsey shot and Walcott blasting hopelessly wide, after van Persie’s chip which hit the bar came back to him, was the best we could muster.
Afterwards Arsene spoke about finishing the game with four strikers, which surprised me, because this is something we used to do quite regularly. We’d throw on striker after striker to try and get the goal to win the game. Yet this Arsenal squad does not have the personnel to do that. Henry for the Ox seemed a safe move when Henry for Walcott was the most obvious. A team is sitting deep with men behind the ball renders Walcott nigh on useless because his greatest asset is pace and exploiting space. If there’s no space then he doesn’t have the technical ability or awareness to make things happen in the final third.
Thierry, much as I love him, had little or no impact when he came on, I don’t consider Walcott a striker per se, and Rosicky for Ramsey was a midfield change. When it comes right down to it we finished the game not with four strikers, but one and a half. We left Arshavin on the bench (I know, but when you need a goal why not try?), the Villa away matchwinner Benayoun stayed on the bench, while Park is obviously just in the squad to make up numbers. We have to remember that Arsene was the manager who would throw on a Chris Wreh or a Kaba Diawara when we had strikers of real quality at the club.
That he will not use the South Korean, even when we’re desperate for a goal, says so much about the dearth of options we have available to us. We didn’t finish the game with four strikers because we simply don’t have four strikers.
And that is why people wanted us to buy in January. Walcott has one goal (that he scored himself) in 16 games, Gervinho’s gone, the Ox is great but raw, Arshavin, Park, Chamakh, where are the goals going to come from if Robin doesn’t get them? Not from midfield, Ramsey is overplayed and while I can’t criticise a player for trying too hard just needs to simplify his game. Arteta is just back from injury, Song struggled last night and looks jaded, his game littered with errors. Yet it’s too easy to blame the players, they don’t pick themselves.
Despite the frustration of dropping points last night I didn’t think we played that badly. We’ve certainly seen worse this season but the inability to take the chances we’ve created is what cost us most. We can take a clean sheet and the return of Sagna as positives, and despite missing his own chance The Ox set up two gilt-edged opportunities for others, but those things aside it’s hard not to be disheartened.
You know, people go on about how long it’s been since we’ve won a trophy but I can live without trophies if I feel like the club is doing everything it can to achieve them. If we give it everything and fall short then I don’t think too many people would complain. Seriously. But it doesn’t feel like that at the moment. Perhaps the transfer funds available to Arsene Wenger aren’t as high as some would suggest, but as Goonerholic rightly points out and as I said the other day, in a depressed market surely we’ve got a strong hand with which to exploit the financial difficulties of others.
Arsene decided that he wouldn’t buy in January, for whatever reason, and quite firmly put his faith in what he’d got to get him results. What we needed last night was for those players to prove that his faith was well placed and that they were capable of going out and taking three points. The missed chances will be soon forgotten, the only thing that matter is the scoreline and that tells us that Arsenal blew another chance of closing the gap on the top four.
Our league form this season is: W11, D4, L8. That’s mid-table form and Arsenal sit this morning in 7th position. Behind Liverpool. Behind Newcastle. In all competitions this season we have lost 11 times. Each one of those defeats came before the January window closed, and if that’s not evidence that this was a squad that needed something adding to it beyond the emotional but mostly ineffective return of a former legend, I don’t know what is.
We can listen to Ivan Gazidis talk all day about our business model and how successful it is. Which is great. Except for the fact that our footballing model is failing, nobody seems to be doing anything about it and nobody seems to be accountable for it. And I think what frustrates me most is that for most of these trophy-less years there’s been a sense that if we could just add a couple of quality players to the mix we’d have a side capable of competing for the league each season.
Now it looks as if it’d take a lot more than one or two and that’s a measure of how difficult our task is going to be for the reason of the season. We’ve taken just 8 points from our last 8 league games. We have yet to win a league game in 2012. We’ve been overtaken in the league by Newcastle and Liverpool, teams who I think we can objectively look at as average, at best. Which, if we remain objective, tell us a lot about ourselves.
I said yesterday that not strengthening in January and results being affected by that would provide people with a stick with which to beat Arsene, Ivan and our silent owner with.
I suspect for many, whacking day is upon us.
In other news, those of you who use the iPhone app will be delighted to hear there’s been an update. The app now includes the blog, Arseblog News, the Arseblog Twitter feed, the Arsecasts and the liveblog. It’s also iPad native now too, so go to the App Store on your phone to update or simply click here to download it.
Finally, you might notice things look a little different. There’ll be tinkering going on under the hood all day but if you see anything odd, just leave a message in the arses and I’ll take a look.
Right, have a good one. Till tomorrow.